The Hi’s & Lo’s of JAXA

Back in February space agencies around the world were cheering on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as it launched a new space observation satellite that was going to get us all some darn answers about black holes. This joint effort between JAXA and NASA caused a bit of confusion among outsiders because the satellite went by different names depending on if you were an Eastern space enthusiast (Hitomi for you) or a Western space enthusiast (ASTRO-H for you).

The gringa prefers the moniker Hitomi. This Japanese word has several meanings, all of which the gringa likes much better than the anacronym ASTRO-H. Hitomi literally means the “pupil of the eye”. However, when you break the word down into its phonetical language parts “hito” and “mi” it becomes “beautiful history”. As I look into the vastness of space and the stars that are kazillions of years old, the cosmos most certainly is the most beautiful history I have ever beheld.

Unfortunately, however, Hitomi’s story is not so pretty. Launched back in February, space fans everywhere were so excited that soon the satellite would be orbiting about 300 miles above us and collect data on X-rays emitted by black holes as well as galaxy clusters. Scientists have been eager for any means to gather more information since the detection of gravitational waves were announced which are directly related to black holes.

After a successful launch the evening of February 16, JAXA and NASA announced that Hitomi’s solar arrays were operating properly and began anticipating the arrival of data and images. Japan’s sixth satellite for the research of X-ray astronomy, the science community waited with bated breath for what they were certain was going to be groundbreaking information from the latest state of the art space satellite technology.

By March 26, contact with Hitomi was lost. By April the announcement came that finally, all hope was lost as well. Bye-bye Hitomi.

Once Hitomi reached its orbit things began to go wrong. Scientists reported that communication was lost within days and that their only conclusion was that the satellite had most likely disintegrated. A quarter of a billion dollars converted to space junk in a matter of weeks. How terribly disappointing. The director general of JAXA, Saku Tsuneta, officially announced the abandonment of the project with his deepest regrets.

Researchers believe that the solar panels that control the instruments may have broken away from the satellite. This would have basically transformed the satellite into a rudderless ship adrift in space. It will be about twelve more years before anything matching Hitomi’s capabilities will launch when the European Space Agency (ESA) completes a similar project.

On a side note, the gringa is surprised that conspiracy theorists haven’t jumped all over this story. When communication was first lost with the satellite, hope was revived when JAXA detected three signals they believed originated from Hitomi. However, after more scrutiny, it was discovered that the signals were not from the spacecraft. Hmmm. The gringa wonders just where, or whom, those signals came from. Could it have been some very clever and covert space aliens who captured human technology? Only time will tell!


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India’s Space Explorers

The gringa has done innumerable posts on NASA, several on the European Space Agency (ESA) and even the space programs of Russia, China and Japan. Were my dear readers aware that India has its own space program? They do. It is called the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and they are now on the brink of exploring the galaxy with their own re-usable shuttle.

To India’s credit, they have accomplished the feat of designing and constructing a reusable launch vehicle for a fraction of what SpaceX spent on their reusable rocket. If their shuttle model is a success, the world may have to turn its eyes to India as the next world leader in space program development and exploration. Not only are they getting things done, but doing so extraordinarily efficiently.

On its virgin flight, the 21 foot long shuttle, weighing one and three-quarter tons, reached Mach 5 as it zipped through space 39 miles above Earth. The craft successfully splashed down right on target at coordinates in the Bay of Bengal. This prototype is much smaller than NASA shuttles but if the design is right and all goes well, India plans to enlarge the shuttle’s length by one hundred feet by the year 2030. By designing a re-usable shuttle, India will realize a 90% savings with every single launch. Cost was the very reason NASA’s shuttle program was discontinued.

Aerospace experts around the world view India’s achievement with great interest.  By drawing upon the successes and failures of other space agencies around the world, India has developed a space program that has avoided costly mistakes. They have also been able to model their inspirations upon the successes that have been accomplished. India is managing a successful and growing space program with a budget that, on average, is about three times smaller than their Western counterparts. One reason is that they have eliminated much of what we Westerners call pesky bureaucracy.

Going red tape free, however, is not without its risks. Only time will tell if lack of regulation results in a more hazardous space program. Re-usable shuttles should translate into multiple launches annually. This will mean more money for the space program by infusions of cash from investors and contractors who want their payloads delivered to the International Space Station and other countries paying cab fare for their astronauts to hop a ride.

At the rate India is clipping along with progress at a significant lower price, they may just boot SpaceX out of the space transport market altogether. Who knows, it may be India that gets to Mars first. And according to the stock market, investors seem to have the same suspicion. The companies involved in supplying ISRO with the materials they need have become quite attractive for foreign and Indian investors.

The gringa has always wanted to visit India. It’s rich history and beautiful culture has always intrigued me. Now, I have hopes that in yet one more country on this grand globe, this astronaut hopeful has just one more option of space programs that, one day, may be interested in sending a gringa into outerspace.

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The UK’s Windowless Plane – What’s The Point?

Have the gringa’s dear readers seen the United Kingdom’s announcement of the future of flying? The gringa has and she would just like to know why no one bothered to ask her advice on what should be the new and improved planes of tomorrow. Windows are the least of my worries on board an airplane. Technicon Design engineers, however, seem to think differently. They believe their revolutionary design is just what the world of travel needs for the following reasons:

  • Reduced fuel costs
  • Reduced overall aircraft weight
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Enhanced aesthetics of airplane interior

What passengers will have instead of windows will be LED screens that will display the outside view, movies, or, heaven forbid, presentations (EGAD! Surely not!). Individual LED displays can be used for passenger convenience to place a service order with flight attendants or display personal images of choice.

While the uber-wealthy will get to enjoy this style of travel a decade before the rest of the world’s peons, the gringa is not all that impressed. Please let me complain, er, I mean, explain…

#1. Reduce fuel costs? Big deal. Every single time an airline finds a way to reduce cost, it is only for the benefit of the airline to maximize profit. I have yet to pay a single dime less for any airline ticket I have ever purchased. A roundtrip flight to Peru cost the gringa $600 a decade ago. Today, it’s about $800 on a good day. So, when airlines start saying things like, “This technology will reduce the cost of a ticket,” and it actually happens (because we’ve all heard that one before) the gringa will be sufficiently impressed.

#2.  Reduce overall weight? Again, big deal. The gringa could care less about how much an airplane weighs. They all fall like a rock  to oblivion below if anything goes wrong. When airlines report that they have developed an airplane design that is light as a feather and will float safely and gently to the earth in the event of mechanical difficulties, the gringa will be on board with that development.

#3. Reduce maintenance costs? Why should I care? It still has nothing to do with the price of oranges today. What the gringa really wants to hear is that a smart-plane has been developed that can detect an explosive device within a one mile radius. Aerospace engineers, are you hearing the gringa?

#4.  Enhanced aesthetics of the plane’s interior? Now that’s just a bunch of baloney. I want the dadburn window, okay? I mean a REAL window. Why the heck would a gravity bound Earthling give up the chance to see a REAL LIVE CLOUD close up? Are you out of your mind? If you really want to improve the aesthetics of the interior give us passengers more leg room for crying out loud! Give us a bathroom where we can really sit for awhile and enjoy ourselves. Give me an aisle wide enough that some stranger doesn’t get a face full of patootie as I pass by during a bit of turbulence. Good grief, engineers, where DO you get your inspiration?

So, even if they announce that all of the things they see as benefits will reduce the cost of flying, the gringa wants to know exactly “who” is supposed to enjoy the benefit of those cost reductions. Will it really be the passengers or will it be the stockholders? When the caveman and I can fly south and see his family for as much as we pay for a week’s worth of groceries, THEN and ONLY then, will the gringa be happy about giving up the up close and personal experience of clouds. The dear reader can view a video of the U.K.’s windowless Spike S-512 and decide for themselves.

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3D Expandables Student Challenge for NASA’s BEAM Project

If you are the parent of a creative child or if you are a teacher with a classroom of clever, aspiring young scientists, listen up! NASA is looking for future engineers and participation in any of their challenges is one way for aspiring engineers, scientists and designers to get their attention. Coming up in July is the opening date of a great opportunity for anyone who can “think outside the box”, because that is EXACTLY what NASA is asking everyone who participates to do.

So, dear reader, now that the gringa has sufficiently gotten hold of your interest, I’m sure you want to know what the heck this is all about. Well, the challenge centers around BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module). This new space program is developing and testing the next phase of the International Space Station. Space agencies will begin integrating habitat technology that is expandable as they test the technology for possible use in deeper space missions. This will enable crews to have an immediate habitat available for use when they arrive somewhere in the galaxy after a long duration flight, somewhere like Mars. After a space flight that has lasted months, crews will not have the strength or time to build a traditional life supporting structure. They need a “pop-up” version.

BEAM arrived on ISS April 10 of this year and was installed successfully on its Tranquility node. In another few weeks it will be inflated and the real tests will begin. Astronauts will determine if the technology meets the demand of the needed readiness level, if it will provide sufficient protection for the crew against radiation in space, evaluate the performance of an inflatable structure and see if it can be safely deployed and utilized by a crew in space.

So what is NASA challenging students from Kindergarten to Seniors to do? NASA needs some 3D printing designs. They need designs of objects that will be useful to astronauts in outer space. We’re not talking about backscratchers and toothbrushes. No, NASA wants kids to think BIG, like expandable BIG, stuff that GROWS! Astronauts need all kinds of expandable stuff like:

  • Hinges
  • Accordion connectors
  • Telescopes

And what does a prize winning student or class have to look forward to?

  • Grand Prize – VIP visit to Bigelow Aerospace, the manufacturers of BEAM
  • Finalist – An inflatable tent by Heimplanet
  • Semifinalist – Gift Code to Shapeways valued at $50

So, get ready to sign up July 16. For more information or to sign-up, log on to And, GOOD LUCK! Drop the gringa a note and let me know all about your experience!


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Incan Stars

The caveman has Incan blood, a Peruvian transplant to the United States. It is then only natural that the gringa is curious about Peruvian contributions to space related science and technology. After all, considering some of the interesting theories surrounding Nazca, the Incans may have been involved in space travel long before the rest of the world was enjoying  gas lighting.

Peru has an active science industry that has developed and successfully launched nano-satellites. They were developed by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Universidad Alas Peruanas and Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria. Aside from the academic community, the Peruvian government, in collaboration with the government of France, will be launching a satellite this year of its own production. Individual professional groups are also participating in desert experiments related to the future exploration of Mars.

The majority of space related technology is developed by Peru’s universities with the cooperation of the Peruvian Space Agency, The National Commission for Aerospace Research and Development (CONIDA).  Launches of satellites have been successful in cooperation with NASA as well as ROCOSMOS. CONIDA recently invested over $200 million dollars in a French produced satellite, “Astrosat-300”, more commonly called Airbus. This is the most advanced satellite in Latin America. Peruvian students who were trained in France manage the operations and image capturing.

Peru desires to increase awareness of space among its population. It enthusiastically supports programs that involve active participation of Peruvian youth. It hopes its nation’s international involvement in developing space capabilities will grow. CONIDA’s official decree states it’s intent is to “[P]romote and develop peaceful, research and work aimed at the country’s progress in space”.

One way CONIDA works toward its mission is to develop graduate programs for Peru’s universities as well as create “School Workshop on Space Activities” programs that are designed to motivate interest among Peru’s youth in their final two years of high school. These courses introduce subjects such as data collection from satellites, satellite observation of earth, digital processing of satellite images and how to use supporting software. Specialized courses about geology, agriculture, forestry and mineral exploration are also offered.

CONIDA’s Technical Department of Space Technology Development is actively engaged in the research and development of rockets and probes. They are on the fast track to develop payload delivery systems and become a vital actor in the vigorous international space travel community. “Punta Lobos”, a CONIDA science base south of Lima, houses much of what this department develops. It has been visited by delegates of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) regarding future collaborative projects.

Peru has many interesting and critical areas where satellites are beneficial for the country. They have a landslide monitoring system, flood hazard monitors, tectonic movement assessment, measurements of volcanic flows, as well as seasonal precipitation monitoring of rainfall.

Peru considers space observation for its nation as critical for national security as well as to address many geological issues for the benefit of all of Peru’s people. I anticipate that they will serve the memory of their ancestors well. I believe that my caveman will proudly see the day when the land of his birth boasts about their own astronauts aboard the ISS, arriving there in their own spacecraft. The gringa just wonders if it will be of gold and shaped like a sleeping llama?


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A Happy, Hopeful Astronaut

The gringa is happy to announce that she is one step closer to realizing her astronaut dreams! The media has given so much attention to SpaceX and their contractual relationship with NASA that the wonders of Blue Origin have not received their due. And, for aspiring astronauts like myself, this is a terrible injustice that the gringa hopes to rectify with this humble blog post.

Blue Origin is making it possible for astronaut hopefuls to reach dizzying heights above the Earth. Space pioneers will soon launch into Earth’s atmosphere in the New Shepard capsule that is perched above a sixty foot rocket that has proven its re-useable capabilities long before SpaceX claimed such fame. They had successful launches and landings November, 2015, and this month, January, 2016.

The New Shepard can sit a six man crew and accelerate past 3G’s, that’s faster than Mach 3. And, although each crewman does have duties aboard ship, there is plenty of time for space explorers to kick back and gaze out some enormous windows upon the vastness of outer space that surrounds our beautiful planet. Once the New Shepard capsule separates from the rocket booster, passengers then experience weightlessness in the perfect stillness of the vacuum of space.

Where does all of this amazingness happen? Practically in the gringa’s back yard, right here in Texas, west Texas to be more exact. Very soon Flyboys and Flygirls will begin arriving at the launch site and go through a two day training course on what to expect as well as what your astronaut responsibilities will be. There are flight simulations, safety briefings and in-depth flight training on procedures, communications and maneuvering.

Launch day starts at sunrise for pre-flight checks and final clearance. Once the go ahead is given, space explorers climb in, batten down the hatch, strap in, and COUNT DOWN. The launch is a 150 second burn of the ride of your life! In no time the blue sky fades to black, yeah, just like the Metallica song. Astronauts get to explore the weightlessness of zero gravity, contemplate man’s place in the Universe, and make spaceflight history.

Earthbound mission control will signal when it’s time to get your feet back on the ground. So, strap back in and be prepared for an even faster trip back down (over 5Gs!) that will be slowed by eight drag brakes (technical-speak for parachutes). Right before touch down the rocket engine fires up and slows the booster for a 5 mph landing very close to the launch area.

Blue Origin’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” which is Latin for “step by step, ferociously”. Step by step they have built upon one success after another and broken new ground in the spaceflight industry. They are making it possible for EVERYONE (that has enough money, that is) to be an astronaut. In fact, Blue Origin wants to make it possible for millions of people to eventually live and work in outer space.

Although SpaceX has gotten more media attention for building a reusable rocket system, Blue Origin experienced this success first. With each flight, the cost of spaceflight becomes more and more affordable. Maybe it will be within the gringa’s budget in another five or ten years. Who knows?! But, one day, I’m going!

Blue Origin is perfecting their New Shepard flight program with ongoing tests of unmanned test flights. They have yet to put a crew up into the heavens. But, each test brings the day closer when astronauts like you and I, dear reader, will climb on board and make history!

And, if you’re not interested in getting shot up into the sky, you can still be a part of history by working for Blue Origin because they need lots of folks with skills! Just a few slots they need to fill:  Aerodynamics Engineer, Aerospace Technician, Avionics Engineer,  Avionics Software Development Engineer, Composite Structural Engineer, Dimensional Inspector, Director of Safety and Mission Assurance,  Dynamic & Loads Engineer, HelpDesk Technician, and the list goes on and on.

And you don’t have to necessarily relocate to West Texas to have one of these fantastic jobs. Blue Origin has facilities in Washington State and Florida, too. So, if you believe in no limits, are passionate about the space industry, and have something to offer to Blue Origin’s collaborative efforts, you need to check them out.

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Allow Me To Introduce You To JAXA

Who is JAXA? JAXA is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and they have been very busy. In 2010 JAXA was disappointed when their orbiter “Akatsuki”, which, in  English, means “dawn”, failed in its mission to orbit Venus. However, JAXA is not one to give up. The agency kept at it for five years and finally, in December, accomplished its mission.

Now that Akatsuki is orbiting Venus its cameras are transmitting a steady stream of images. One orbit cycle takes about thirteen and one-half Earth days. JAXA is tweaking its orbit path to eventually get its orbit cycle to nine Earth days. That will result in Akatsuki being closer to Venus which will improve the clarity of the images it sends back to JAXA.

Venus is a hot, volcanic planet that is about the same size as Earth. And, when I say hot, the gringa means hot enough to melt lead. Akatsuki will gather data on the weather and atmosphere of this steamy planet. Scientists are interested in the volcanoes.

JAXA operates all missions with the purpose to help create a safe society that can utilize space. The agency seeks to be a leader in technology and have technology used wisely for the benefit of society. The Japanese believe that as humans evolve, happiness should increase. JAXA is inspired to overcome the difficulties facing mankind. They intend to act responsibly to meet the expectations society has for the work the Agency performs. The slogan JAXA operates under is “Explore to Realize”.

JAXA desires to contribute to the well being of all people on Earth through their research and development. They believe this can be achieved by improving quality of life, providing safety and security, developing sustainable methods for living, and expanding the knowledge of all peoples.

JAXA was established in October of 2003. The following Spring the agency successfully performed its first series of flight tests for their Stratosphere Stationary Platform. Since their first successful test flights, JAXA has continued to perform successfully. Just a few of their many accomplishments throughout the years:

  • July, 2005, the agency launched “Suzaku”, an X-ray astronomy satellite.
  • July through August of 2005 Japanese Astronaut Souichi Noguchi joined the NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” mission.
  • December, 2005, JAXA made history with the first EVER optical inter-satellite communication between Optical Inter-orbit Communications Engineering (OICETS) and the Advanced Relay and Technology Mission “ARTEMIS” of the European Space Agency (ESA)
  • 2006-2007, successfully launched eight different space vehicles
  • March, 2008, Astronaut Takao Doi served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavor” on mission to attach Experiment Logistics Module-Pressurized Section (ELM-PS) of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • June, 2008, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” on mission to attach Pressurized Module (PM) and Remote Manipulator System of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the ISS.
  • July, 2009, Astronaut Koichi Wakata attached Exposed Facility of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to ISS. First Japanese Astronaut to complete a long-stay mission and returned home aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavour”
  • December, 2009, Astronaut Souichi Noguchi served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, completed long-stay mission, returning to Earth June, 2010
  • June, 2011, Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS and returned to Earth November, 2011
  • July, 2012, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, returning to Earth November, 2012
  • November, 2013, Astronaut Wakata served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS. March, 2014, Astronaut Wakata became first Asian commander of ISS. Returned to Earth May, 2014

JAXA has big plans for 2016. It expects to launch the Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO) after it successfully completes a round of tests performed by the European Space Agency (ESA). It will launch from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

It is also committed to being an active world partner in resolving the many issues humanity must resolve that are related to climate change. JAXA will use the ALOS-2 satellite to monitor and collect data related to deforestation. All data will be available to everyone worldwide through open access on the Internet.

JAXA aims to develop a tracking system for tropical forests. JAXA will be joined in its efforts by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and many private corporations. By constantly monitoring worldwide forest loss, the agency hopes that this initiative will lead to successful conservation solutions. A public access website should be up and running by March, 2017 and will be updated every six weeks with the latest findings.

Goals are to restrain illegal logging and conserve forests that are critical to help reduce the effects of climate change. During 2009-2012 Brazil was cooperating with monitoring efforts. Over 2,000 incidents were revealed and action was taken that helped reduce the destruction of forests by forty percent. It is clear that this effort and mission JAXA is undertaking is a significant contribution to the future security of humanity by helping to minimize the effects of climate change.

With agencies like JAXA looking out for the interests of people all over the world, the gringa is confident that this place we all call home has a future where there is great hope. The international cooperation of so many space agencies is an inspiration that we can become a global community where our differences are not obstacles, but, rather, strengths. Because the gringa thinks the world would be a very boring place if we were all alike.

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The Case Of The Hitchhiking Microbe

What, exactly, does NASA hope to accomplish if astronauts really do set their boots on the surface of Mars? One thing they hope to discover are clues to the origins of life on Earth. The gringa asks, “What exactly does that mean?” It means that NASA is considering the theory of “panspermia” and is exploring outer space to see if stellar evidence proves this theory to be true.

Panspermia is nothing new.  As far back as 5BC scientists were considering panspermia as the explanation for how humans came into existence here on Earth. In 1871 it was officially proposed in the scientific community of that day. Panspermia posits that it is possible for life to planet hop, possibly even hop among star systems, and seed the planets it visits with life. In a nutshell, that would mean that the primitive biological material that evolved into the original ancestors of humans was not created here on Earth, but, rather, were alien hitchhikers who made their way here on cosmic fragments.

NASA’s exploration policy is to “follow the water” because it is necessary to produce life as we know it. Water is found throughout the universe, just not in the form we need, liquid. It’s usually frozen. However, wherever there is frozen water, perhaps, in that planet’s history, it was once liquid. And, if so, perhaps that is where human origins can be found if the panspermia theory is true, that life exists in the universe and can travel via meteors to other planets and eventually develop on other worlds where the environment is sufficient to support its development.

Since Mars was a warm world with water long ago, the necessary ingredients for life as we know it, it makes it a logical planet to explore for evidence of panspermia. The exploration and data collected so far from the rovers and satellites studying Mars have been limited to studying the surface of the Red Planet. No evidence has been found on the surface. It is possible, however, that important evidence could be buried beyond the reach of the rovers’ digging capabilities or a satellite’s imaging. That is why it is important to get some human explorers out there.

What would the implications be if Earth-like microbes were discovered on Mars? Every human would first want to go have a very long look in the mirror and then a very long look up into the heavens and ponder the concept. NASA, however, would not be surprised. NASA has already conducted studies on over 130 meteorites from Mars and determined that none contained any microbial evidence despite the fact that some claims to the contrary were made. NASA understands the serious repercussions that would occur around the world if such a discovery is made and we can trust them to report the truth without any hype. NASA takes scientific truth seriously.

They even have a program established that studies the effects such discoveries might have throughout the world. They understand that an announcement that extraterrestrial life exists will have serious philosophical, religious, legal, ethical and cultural implications that will impact people all over the world.

Despite NASA’s interest in this theory and their willingness to explore space with the idea in mind to search for supportive evidence, they are also realistic about its probability. They believe that it is probably unlikely that life as we know it on Earth was seeded from Mars origins. However, because science is not about “probably”, they must continue the studies until the theory can be proven or disproven.

There are some scientists who do believe that Mars was an ideal place for life to have existed at some time. They believe that since such life would have existed long before life on Earth ever existed, it is then not unreasonable to consider the possibility that microbes traveled to Earth on a meteorite and introduced life here on the Blue Planet.

One reason some scientists support the idea of panspermia via Mars is because Martian meteorites contain the precursors to RNA, boron and molybdenum. In fact, they contain more of these two elements than what is found in early Earth. And why does that matter? RNA is a molecule that plays a critical role in regulating genes and its presence is necessary for all life forms as we Earthlings know them. So, if an old rock from Mars contains such a molecule, it only stands to reason, at least from an Earthling perspective, that it existed on Mars for the purpose of regulating the genetic codes of some Martian life form.

Another Martian discovery that further supports the belief that life once existed on Mars has to do with phosphates. It has already been established that Mars has provided evidence of the presence of RNA. In order for RNA to form, phosphates must be present. Well, not only does Mars have phosphates, but Martian phosphates dissolve in water much better than Earth’s phosphates. The logic then goes that since life as we know it here on Earth originated in water, Martian conditions were even more friendly to the aspect of life forming than conditions on Earth. So, if it could happen here, it most certainly should have happened on Mars.

So, basically, the theory goes that about 4 billions years ago a comet or meteorite of Martian origins blasted through our galaxy and slammed into Earth. Now this could have been an accident or, according to “directed panspermia” theory, a deliberate action by an intelligent civilization.

Historically panspermia has been considered “fringe” science. However, it is now gaining new consideration in light of the Mars mission. In fact, in 2013 Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Buckingham claims to have discovered fossilized remains of organisms in meteorites found within Earth’s atmosphere. This proves that it is possible for primitive life forms to survive the intense heat of entry into Earth’s atmosphere and make its way to Earth’s surface. He believes it is possible that the entire Milky Way Galaxy could have been teeming with life at one time long, long ago. He also believes that organic, possibly even living, stellar material is constantly being exchanged throughout the cosmos through meteoric impact.

So, the gringa awaits the exciting mission of boots on the ground on Mars. I eagerly await the drill, baby, drill action that will delve deep below the dusty surface of the Red Planet. I can’t wait to find out what may lie beneath the frozen crust of the vast Martian ocean. Scientists believe the Martian seas are not frozen solid. Could a Martian “Nessie” be swimming about waiting for visitors to come feed her a few breadcrumbs? It very well could be. And, she could be our distant cousin.


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Warming Lakes & Rivers = Trouble

It’s pretty easy to find climate change articles discussing the changes that are taking place in the world’s oceans. But, the gringa asks, what about the lakes and rivers of the Earth?

I grew up on a river. I love rivers. I love canoeing and floating down rivers on tubes and camping out alongside the banks of a river. What’s happening with these rivers I love? And what about lakes? Every summer we take a traditional three day weekend family trip to one of the most beautiful lakes in Texas. What’s happening to this fabulous lake? Unfortunately, the research shows that these are all changing as well.

NASA’s response to this change is to create a “global water cycle budget”. It covers a ten year period of the Earth’s freshwater concerns. This will be the baseline by which future “global water cycle budget’s” will be compared.

The water cycle involves the entire environmental process of how water moves, in all forms, around this big, blue planet. As depicted in the image posted it is easy to trace how water evaporates from the surface of the Earth. As it rises into the atmosphere it cools, condenses into clouds, then returns to the Earth as precipitation (rain, snow, hail,  or sleet). This is the kind of science the gringa learned in elementary school but it is, perhaps, the most critical environmental cycle for the continuation of life on Earth.

From the year 2000 until 2010 NASA collected satellite data  to estimate how much energy from the sun was required to move water. Hotter days means more evaporation of water within the soil. More evaporation means more moisture in the winds that transport this moisture throughout the world. Because the Earth is a closed system, any water that evaporates from its surface can be accounted for in the water vapor that eventually accumulates in the atmosphere. It’s kind of like taking a jar of pennies to the bank and getting dollars in return. It’s an even exchange of the same thing, money, but it exists in two different forms, pennies or bills. Water on Earth is the same. It’s either here on Earth as water or in the atmosphere as a form of precipitation.

However, the water model is a bit more complicated. Consider that each penny represents a different data set concerning where the water is specifically located, formed, or used. Such as: ocean, lake, evaporation from soil and plants, streams, rivers, human consumption. To help scientists manage all of this data they divide the Earth into seven land masses (Eurasia, South America, North America, Africa, Antarctica, Mainland Australia, Oceania/New Zealand/Tasmania) and nine ocean basins (North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Arctic, Black Sea).

Over two dozen satellites provide scientists with data concerning precipitation and evaporation over the land masses and oceans. Researchers can track the movement of atmospheric water vapor, river runoff, groundwater reservoirs, soil moisture and snowpacks.

These important studies have already determined that lakes around the world are warming. This warming trend is affecting the ecosystems they are a part of as well as threatening the security of adequate freshwater supplies.

To come to the conclusion that lakes are warming, NASA used a twenty-five year compilation of data of ground measurements of over 200 lakes on six separate continents. On average, the lakes are warming about half a degree Fahrenheit every decade. Some lakes, the ones at higher latitudes, are warming even faster, one whole degree Fahrenheit per decade. That means that freshwater lakes are warming faster than the oceans.

As lakes warm, algal blooms increase. These rob the oxygen in the water from the fish. NASA’s models predict a twenty percent increase in these toxic algal blooms over the next century. Not only will this result in a chain reaction within the ecosystem wiping out the fish, as well as the wildlife and fauna that depend on those fish, but the blooms will also increase greenhouse gas emissions. Algal blooms are expected to produce methane emissions that will increase four percent over the next decade unless we Earthlings come up with a solution.

Solving the lake warming problem is a very important component of solving the climate change problem because methane emissions are 25 times more powerful than carbon emissions. A massive worldwide increase of algal blooms in freshwater lakes is a disaster we cannot allow to happen.

If the world’s lakes become a casualty of climate change, it won’t just be an environmental disaster, it will be a humanitarian disaster. These are important sources for drinking water, crop irrigation, and the production of food fish that are an important protein source for vulnerable populations around the world. Some researchers are already detecting evidence that productivity in warming lakes is already declining.

Out of the 37 largest aquifers on Earth, 21 are already past the sustainability tipping point and are being depleted. Another 13 are classified as “significantly distressed”. Eight are classified as “overstressed”. “Distressed” and “overstressed” means that these water sources have no natural replenishment to offset consumption. Five more were classified as “extremely stressed”, being depleted but with some replenishment occurring.

These were the conclusions of NASA’s study of ten years of data from the GRACE satellites. The GRACE satellites measure how Earth’s gravity is affected by existing masses of water. What NASA reports is alarming and difficult for the gringa to swallow, even with a glassful of water. That means that almost one third of our world’s groundwater is rapidly disappearing. And what’s even scarier is there is no reliable data that can predict just exactly when these wells will run dry. Yet, we continue to consume rather than conserve.

One of these overstressed reservoirs is the Arabian Aquifer System. It sustains over 60 million people. If we think there’s trouble in the Middle East right now over regional power struggles and the global fight to dominate the oilfields for profit, what the heck can we expect to see when these people have nothing left to drink? What kind of mass exodus will occur when that happens? This is a problem that must be solved. When climate change deniers scoff at the idea that climate change is the single most issue that threatens the national security of all peoples, they have no idea what they are talking about.

If Americans thought the California and Texas droughts were painful, consider what could occur in India and Pakistan, home to the second-most overstressed aquifer, the Indus Basin. Then there’s the third most overstressed water source, the Murzuk-Djado basin in north Africa. These regions are home to almost two billion people! Think about the Syrian refugee crisis. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

While working toward a solution, scientists cannot agree on any projected timeline of “time to depletion”. And when the gringa says they cannot agree, I’m talking about discrepancies of warnings of ten years to twenty-one THOUSAND years! However, one thing that these scientists DO agree on is that in a water-scarce society that is water dependent, this kind of ignorance is intolerable. Well, the gringa is glad to hear that.

Because groundwater reservoirs are so deep beneath the surface of the Earth, the only method to accurately measure just how much is down there is to drill, baby, drill. It’s gonna cost a lot of money, but the experts say it has to be done. NASA is committed to using its technology, personnel and data to help secure mankind’s future and improve lives around the world. By sharing knowledge freely with scientists around the world, the agency hopes to increase understanding that will lead to solutions.

The gringa waits to hear NASA’s announcement of a challenge like “Dig A Hole, Save The Planet”. The gringa has every confidence that NASA will continue to lead the charge to save us Earthlings from ourselves and the messes we continue to make. These challenges are simply a way for us to redeem ourselves after making such awful messes.

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NASA Needs You!

Do you love anything that flies? Are you also a person who can organize and plan just about anything that, to others, seems a chaotic mess? Then NASA needs you.

Perhaps you like robots. Perhaps you like robots so much you’ve even stepped up your game and have built a few. Maybe you’ve got some big ideas and spectacular dreams but don’t know what to do with them. Well, NASA needs you.

Do you enjoy go-carts? Ever driven them? Worked on them? Built one? Did you enjoy all that tinkering? NASA needs you!

Are you a computer geek? Do you fantasize about putting all that keyboard pecking to use for the future of all humanity? I’m tellin’ you, NASA needs you!

Do you stargaze, with or without a telescope? NASA needs you!

NASA has all sorts of active challenges. These are opportunities for the general public to show the space agency just what they’ve got! Here’s your chance! You’re big break! If you have a crazy lab or workshop that you escape to where you invent all sorts of weird gadgets, you simply must read on because the gringa has got a treat prepared just for you! (Or a friend of yours, you can always pass the info along!)

Listed below are just a few of the current active challenges NASA has extended to the general public. Click on the links and explore NASA’s website if any of these challenges appeal to you!

  • “Sky For All: Air Mobility for 2035 and Beyond”. Develop ideas and technologies for the airspace of the future. Solve problems of air traffic management that will be dealing with crowded skies way beyond what we have today. Consider in your designs autonomous operations and cyber security. As a design for the future, twenty years from now it will not just be commercial airlines in the air. There will also be personal air vehicles, unmanned aircraft (drones), spacecraft and even stationary objects (such as wind turbines).

Future expectations is that air traffic management systems will be managing more than ten million aircraft in the skies. More than anything, this project is about public safety and also plans for poor weather conditions.

This challenge has a payout of $15,000 for the winning design. It is administered by HeroX and sponsored by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD). Registration officially opens December 21 and submission deadline is February 26, 2016.

  • “Swarmathon” Challenge is a robotics competition scheduled for April 18-22, 2016, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There are openings for 35 on-site teams and 23 virtual teams. The goal is to create cooperative robots that can operate autonomously on Mars.
  • “Human Exploration Rover” Challenge is open for student teams. It is organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. International team deadline is January 11, 2016. U.S. team registration deadline is February 8, 2016. The competition will take place April 7-9, 2016 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama. High school age and college age students are eligible to compete. They are to design, build and drive a human-powered rover that will navigate an obstacle course that will simulate the terrain of Mars. Interested U.S. students should contact Diedra Williams, (256) 544-5721, or send her an email at International students that are interested should contact Amy McDowell, (256) 544-8411, or send her an email at For more information, visit
  • “Sample Return Robot” Challenge wants innovators to build robots that can operate independently to locate, identify and collect samples, and return them to a location without the need of GPS or other navigation aids, within a specific time. This challenge is sponsored by Centennial Challenges Program. It awards $1.39 million dollars to the winning design. This is an ongoing annual challenge. Registration closes every January until this challenge is won. Level 1 Competition is scheduled for June, 2016 and Level 2 for September, 2016. For more info visit and also visit
  • “Enterprise Search Engine” Challenge seeks to improve search capabilities of its new search engine. The challenge awards $50,200 to the winning design. This specific search engine targets the day to day data gathering requirements of NASA employees. The challenge wants the design to enhance filtering, geolocation, content and imagery, among other things. This challenge closes February 10, 2016. For more information, visit
  • “” Challenge is for stargazers who enjoy the challenge of finding the aurora and helping others to see it, too. This challenge is sponsored by the National Science Foundation INSPIRE program. Awards are available and monthly badges can be earned. This is an ongoing challenge that is scheduled to be open indefinitely. There is no limit to participation. For more information, visit

These are not the only challenges that are going on right now. NASA is always updating their website with new challenges. Visit to see what is currently happening. If any of this kind of stuff interests you, get involved. Some of these challenges, like the Aurorasaurus challenge, are great family projects. All you need is time and a willingness to sit out under the stars with your loved ones. And that is a challenge the gringa can most certainly win!


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